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The Neurologists Role in Evaluating Child Development

Physical therapist works with child at Gillette Children's.

Gillette Children's neurologists have strong partnerships with occupational therapists to asses a child’s muscle tone, movement and development.

“Babies’ brains are like powerful sponges wanting to soak up everything they encounter, and their experiences literally help form the architecture of the brain,” says Gillette Children’s pediatric neurologist, Nicole Williams Doonan, MD.  

“That’s what makes a child’s growing brain so exciting,” she adds. “From birth to age 5, they are building a framework for future cognitive, social, and emotional abilities. Sometimes a child might need help to organize and process all that information. As a neurologist, I get to help figure out why things may be harder than expected.”  

Don’t wait and watch--refer!

Parents who notice differences in their child’s learning, play, movement, or communication can get answers from a team of Gillette experts. For young children, Dr. Williams Doonan encourages a referral to Gillette for an Infant and Toddler Development Evaluation.  

This evaluation includes a comprehensive assessment of a child’s muscle tone, movement, and development. Gillette has the largest group of infant and toddler evaluation and treatment experts in the Midwest. 

“The main message I would like to say is don’t wait and watch—refer! We can help at Gillette,” Dr. Williams Doonan says.  

“Helping parents and other providers figure out what is going on with a child and discovering the answers is what we have always done at Gillette,” Dr. Williams Doonan explains.  

“We can guide parents and referring providers to craft a specially tailored treatment plan for each child and to recommend diagnostic studies when indicated. That’s because we work as a multi-disciplinary team that includes experienced child neurology providers, pediatric rehabilitation and medicine providers, therapists, and other specialists,” Dr. Williams Doonan adds. “We complement each other and collaborate to find out what is going on with each child.”

Dr. Nicole Williams-Doonan at Gillette Children's.

Dr. Nicole Williams-Doonan

Gillette is a great place for a neurologist

Dr. Williams Doonan started at Gillette in 2010. “This is my first job out of child neurology training, and I really enjoy working at a place that focuses on the treatment of children with primary neurological disorders,” she says.  

“Some children may see a neurologist for management of neurological complications of other primary diseases or disease-related treatments,” Dr. Williams Doonan explains. “My interest in neurology is in the evaluation and treatment of childhood onset brain-based conditions such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy or neurodevelopmental disorders. We have a great team and a lot of resources at Gillette to help children and teens with complex neurological conditions.”  

Personal experience inspired Dr. Williams Doonan to become a pediatric neurologist.  

“I have a cousin who was adopted from India, and she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy,” Dr. Williams Doonan shares. “She is one of the reasons why I’m here at Gillette.”  

Health history taking is vital

Dr. Williams Doonan says one of the most important things she does as part of her neurology evaluation is to take the history of a patient.  

“The child’s medical history starts from pregnancy,” she says. “This history is vital and can tell us important information about potential risks to the developing brain. Were there any pregnancy complications, was this child born early, what else might be going on with this child?  Parents know their child best.” 

During the appointment, Dr. Williams Doonan and her team will look at a variety of things. “In addition to a hands-on neurological examination, we’re observing how a child behaves and interacts with the environment and people in the room.”  

Reassurance for families with neurological questions

“A child’s brain has incredible plasticity,” Dr. Williams Doonan marvels. “To put it simply, the brain starts out essentially “blank” and then, over time, acquires an incredible amount of information and develops connections that are refined over years.”  

Dr. Williams Doonan advises that it’s important for children to receive repeat evaluations, especially in the first 5 years of life.  

“Infants and toddlers are changing frequently and gaining new skills.  In those first few years so much is happening,” she says.  

“Gillette specialists are experts in the evaluation of neurologic function and developmental milestones in infants and young children. In some cases, we can reassure parents that their child will eventually reach the expected milestones.  In all cases, we want to help each child reach their greatest potential.”  

Helping parents and providers find answers is one of Dr. Williams Doonan’s favorite parts of her work. “Understanding what’s happening with your child is so important. It’s also helpful for families to know how to communicate this information to schools, medical providers, and even relatives about what is happening with their child. It’s satisfying for me to provide this guidance.”  

To learn more about how the Gillette team of experts can answer your questions and help your child, call 651-877-6131 or request an appointment for an infant and toddler evaluation.